On Tuesday, Jacksonville Ethics head Carla Miller and General Counsel Jason Gabriel weighed in on the recent ad Angela Corey filmed at the State Attorney’s office.
The short version: it is permissible for incumbents to film political ads in the taxpayer-funded buildings that house their offices, as long as challengers receive a similar unfettered consideration.
Tuesday, Miller wrote in an email that she “would see no problem in having any candidate have the same access to taping as incumbent officeholders.”
But it was left to Gabriel to offer the legal opinion.
“City ordinances do not prohibit video recordings in the entrance areas and hallways of a city building that are accessible and open to the public. More complex recordings and events should be coordinated with the respective building managers to assure a safe and orderly process,” Gabriel observed, adding that “[V]ideotaping a message (political or otherwise) in an area that is open/accessible by the public would not be a violation of Section 350.305 of the Ordinance Code.”
Gabriel’s interpretation of ordinance is that in a public space, videotaping is permitted: “In City Hall, media representatives typically record interviews and take commentary in the atrium and in Council Chambers. Candidates have a right to film in such areas and no one has the right to censor what they have to say in such public settings. Anyone can go and film in Hemming Park or the steps of City Hall and many people (government or otherwise) hold press conferences in such locations,” Gabriel added.
While Gabriel is “not familiar with the layout of the State Attorney’s office,” he asserts “any candidate should be allowed to make video recordings in this city-owned building in areas that are accessible and open to the public, subject to safety and security measures that are necessary to assure a safe and orderly process.”
The Corey ad started airing in the Jacksonville market last week, and immediately caught the attention of opposing campaigns, who asserted the spot was in potential violation of Statute 350.305, which reads in part that “Campaigning; prohibited in public work places. It shall be unlawful and a class A offense for any person to engage in political campaigning in a public building in locations where public employees are working. This prohibition shall not apply to a public officer or employee’s support or opposition to a referendum affecting the City of Jacksonville; nor shall this prohibition apply to rooms rented in public buildings for the purpose of political campaigning.”
When asked about this, Corey’s spokeswoman, Jackelyn Barnard, said use of the location, which included a hallway and a practice courtroom of the SAO, was permissible.
“It is the same parameters as for any other public building,” Barnard said.
These questions have recurred in recent Jacksonville political history, with questions about the difference between “campaign time” and “city time” being an issue Alvin Brown dealt with in his re-election campaign, and with former Council President Bill Bishop having looked into filming a political ad in his office, before deciding instead to film at Hemming Park.
Corey’s latest campaign finance report, which covers time up until June 24, has no billing for the filming of the ad, which may indicate that there is no “rental” charge for the space in the office of the state attorney. With the green light afforded by Gabriel, opponents such as Kenny Leigh, Wes White and Melissa Nelson can film ads as needed in the SAO, secure in the interpretation of ordinance code the OGC put forth Tuesday.